The Irish Examiner has talent – Gerard Howlin – as Con Houlihan puts it – Now read on!

Old brands of priests, processions and political parties let us down
By Gerard Howlin

Thursday, May 10, 2012

THERE is a real tremor of delight in subsuming ones intelligence to
the blatant nonsense that a particular washing powder will wash whiter
than white.

From supermarket aisle, to shopping trolley, and home to the loving
care of our dirty laundry, there is a sensual and an irrational
fantasy at play. By investing in that brand of superior soap powder,
distinct from the inferior alternatives, we are wrapping ourselves in
the cloth of angels. Well maybe not quite, but we certainly feel a
little superior. Our whites, are well, whiter. Surely something is
rubbing off?

We repeatedly indulge our fantasies in everything from washing powder
to tooth paste. In associating ourselves with better brands we become
better people. We feel better about ourselves. We know its codswallop
when we think about it, but we don’t think. Life is too short and its
pleasures, especially its delusional ones are too few.

Marketing is not delusional and it’s not new. It’s an intensively
researched and ruthlessly efficient exploitation of our ego. Of course
there is no compulsion. The point is that when prompted we enter
willingly into the state of suspended belief required, to become
through anything from skinny jeans to fast cars, the better, sexy and
more admired people we want to be.

Occasionally we are assaulted by an unplanned reflection in the mirror
and realise it isn’t working. We may have invested in the brand, but
the brand has not invested in us. The delusion is shattered. We feel
conned. We switch brands. But usually we don’t give up. We go on, more
brands, more delusion, periodic anger, regret and another broken

The age of advertising is a sequel to the age of belief. Because there
is nothing left to believe in we invest our hopes, if not our prayers,
in new fantasies. The old brands of priests, processions and political
parties have all let us down. We invested in them. But apparently they
did not invest in us. We expected a reciprocal relationship and a
mutual benefit. Instead they took us for a ride. Looking now, what we
see looking back is not nice. They have made us look ugly, look
stupid. Our illusions are shattered and our anger is ripe.

The reflux of our shattered delusion is like a tsunami across our
society. Its power is undermining once towering institutions and
causing them to crumble. It is catching up and sweeping away once
unassailable people from the great heights we placed them on. The
aspiration, which we projected onto them, has become rancorous envy
intent on ruin. Of course there was never much difference between our
aspiration and our envy. It was the toxic mix of the delusion we
foisted, usually warmly invited, on the power hungry. The malice that
appals us the most is the realisation of our own complicity. Greed and
hunger are the dancer and the dance. We were excited by it; we sought
to benefit by it. Our anger is so great because it is the twisted
expression of our shame.

For most of our history, respectability was the only wealth we had.
This was the nexus of why the newly landed small holders of the 1890s
turned so viciously on Charles Stewart Parnell. Landless peasants
turned upright farmers they now had a stake in society. They were not
going to be compromised by a fornicator. Deposed democratically if
brutally in a series of bye elections and prematurely dead at forty
five. That was the onward march of the nation.

Parnell was spared the aftermath. His wife Mrs Parnell, formerly Mrs
O’Shea, was not. Addressing a public meeting in Longford Parnell’s
nemesis Timothy Healy called the newly widowed Mrs Parnell ‘a proved
British prostitute.’ A brilliant, vicious patriot Timothy Healy
thrived and survived like no other. Parnell’s lieutenant, Parnell’s
arch enemy, Home Ruler and Free Stater, he ended up in the Vice Regal
Lodge as Ireland’s first Governor General. Healy was a better judge of
the Irish character than Parnell and a shrewder politician. His was a
brand that successfully refreshed itself. Embodying the cankerous envy
embedded in the Irish soul, he mastered the art of exploiting it
utterly. A compelling and appalling man he was the conjurer who was
never caught out.

Cardinal Brady is no Timothy Healy. With less skill and no luck he was
trapped last week by the incoming tide of history. Full of fury, we
fell tooth and claw on the High Priest. It was a moment of ultimate
revenge and exorcism of what we did not like about ourselves.

What was religion if not the scaffolding for power and property; our
ultimate aspirations? For generations we conscripted our brightest
sons and most compliant daughters into the regiments of God. Their
beatific status was intended to reflect on their family. If no priest
in the family was a disappointment, a spoiled priest was a calamity.
These familial bonds were institutionalised by a society that policed
its respectability relentlessly.

Our clergy, and they were truly ours, were not honorific dignitaries.
They were expected to provide a social focus for the narrow ambitions
of an insular community. They provided ceremony in a republic, and
arbitrated what was acceptable in a democracy. It was that way because
we wanted it so. Orphanages, industrial schools and Magdalene
laundries were openly organised on an industrial scale. A collective
sense of the clandestine afforded all the public discretion required.
Because everybody was in on it, nobody needed to be told. It was that
same suspended belief we employ when casually choosing our soap powder
now. Religion was our whiter than white. It was all about us. If it
weren’t for those outcasts, the dirty laundry of our society, how
could we have been sure of our own standing and success? And be clear,
success was the salvation we sought.

People become very vengeful when disturbed from delusion. Adulating
the powerful and admiring the beautiful confers reflected self-regard
and insight on the disciple. Having agreed to be deceived we are
appalled at the uncovering of our gullibility. Of course we only
attack power when it is vulnerable. But when the attack is launched it
is appalling, a blood lust. It is the moment of self justification
required for a disturbed world to be rebalanced and then to continue
as it was before, except different, of course.

Now the churches are no longer full on Sundays but the traffic jam of
shopping trolleys makes up for it. The seamless transfer of devotion
from high altar to high street tells us nothing about the death of
God, only the death of ourselves. ‘I’m not upset that you lied to me,
I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you’ said the philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche. And so it is with us. The treadmill of
enslavement to false gods continues. We always knew we were being lied
to, or rather lying to ourselves. But we won’t admit our complicity in
the delusion. We can’t. If we did we would have to change and we have
no intention of that.

The notion of bringing closure is a new great truth of our time. I am
sure it will eventually acquire the same standing we have conferred on
all the other truths that we have adhered to. But for now it is the
latest orthodoxy. In the hindsight of history I suspect that
continuity and not closure will be the theme of our time.

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